Helping Members Through Difficult Times

As I write this, we’re about two months into the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. According to at least one model, the situation is showing signs of improvement, but will not approach normal until the beginning of June. Whatever the timeline, I have faith that we will persevere and survive this crisis.

The economic impact of the pandemic has affected all our members. Many conference interpreters have seen their business shut down entirely. Many other interpreters have also seen a severe reduction in their work volume, while the assignments that remain are switching over to remote interpreting. Our interpreter members are thus grappling with reduced volume and having to switch to new modes of providing their services. The impact on translators has been more varied. While some have reported a massive decline in work, others have not yet seen a change, while still others have reported an increase in projects related to the coronavirus.

However you may have been impacted by this crisis, ATA is here to help. The volunteers on the Professional Development Committee and the staff at ATA Headquarters have been working feverishly to create new webinars on remote interpreting to help interpreters make the switch to this mode of providing their services. ATA is providing these webinars, as well as the ATA58 virtual conference free of charge to help members get continuing education points and make the best use of any downtime caused by the pandemic. (Go to, log in with your membership number, and enjoy!)

ATA Website and AMS

Speaking of Headquarters, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire staff for their hard work and dedication during this crisis. They are the people who make these webinars and other offerings available to you, who are constantly updating the website with announcements and news that you need during this critical time, or answering your emails and phone calls, all while dealing with their own personal challenges caused by the pandemic. And even though the entire staff is working remotely, which brings its own set of challenges, not only are they successfully meeting the normal day-to-day work requirements, they’re also meeting the additional requirements imposed on them by the pandemic while continuing their work on two very major projects.

The ATA website redesign—a massive project involving every single ATA committee and division and covering thousands of webpages—is now in its final stages. We hope to have a launch date within the next several weeks.

At the same time, the staff has also been putting in a massive effort on the new Association Management Software (AMS) system. This AMS software will replace our current database with state-of-the-art technology that will increase efficiency in many work processes while improving communication with members. This project is even more extensive than the website revamp as it involves every single work procedure and process at Headquarters.

So, I would encourage you to take a moment to send a brief email to saying thanks to Walter, Roshan, Mary, Kirk, Caron, Jamie, Cathy, Adrian, Jeff, Trish, and Teresa.

Advocacy Efforts

The Advocacy Committee (formerly the Government Relations Committee) has also been hard at work during the past several weeks. Working with the Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS), we lobbied for inclusion of independent contractors in economic relief legislation such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act recently passed by Congress. (See the CARES feature in this issue.) We continue to monitor legislation for “Phase 4” of the government’s response to the pandemic.

The Advocacy Committee also continues to monitor legislation related to worker classification, in particular proposed amendments to AB 5 in California. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC), we are pleased to see the introduction of SB 900, which would exempt most translators and interpreters from the “ABC test” imposed by AB 5. Instead, SB 900 mandates application of the multifactor Borello test to determine employee or independent contractor status.

While SB 900 is an improvement on the status quo under AB 5, in particular due to the express inclusion of sole proprietors in the permissible forms of business entities, there are several issues of varying degrees of importance from ATA’s perspective that should be addressed and resolved before ATA can fully support the bill. Among others, those issues include placement of the exemption under the “referral agency” section instead of the section for “professional services,” the question of whether “non-certified” translation and interpreting services are covered by the exemption, and the meaning of the phrase “good standing” with respect to membership in the various translator and interpreter associations listed in the bill.

ATA encourages its members to continue to support CoPTIC in its efforts to improve the wording of SB 900, and strongly urges members in California to contact their state assemblypersons and senators and advocate for improvements to and passage of SB 900. (To read the full text of SB 900, visit While SB 900 is far from perfect, it’s a good starting place for us to lobby for improvements in the final wording. (See the feature in this issue to read ATA’s Statement on California Senate Bill 900 Amending AB 5.)

Board Actions

In upholding my promise to keep you apprised of policy updates, at its February meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, the Board of Directors passed a “policy on policies” in keeping with the finest bureaucratic traditions. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist adding just a touch of levity to this otherwise all-too-serious column.) Actually, it’s a Policy Review policy which mandates that, going forward, all new policies will be assigned a review date not more than five years from the adoption date. All currently existing policies are being examined and will be assigned a review date of no later than February 2025.

The Board also approved a Conflict of Interest Policy as required by the state of New York. All ATA officers, directors, and key volunteers (committee chairs, division administrators and assistant administrators, and spokespeople) will be required to complete a conflict of interest disclosure form annually.

That’s it for this issue. Stay safe, stay positive, and stay appropriately socially distanced!

ATA61 Goes Virtual

From the President-Elect
Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo
Twitter handle: @mszampaulo

ATA61 Goes Virtual

This year we’ve all been met with a lot of uncertainty. As president-elect and Annual Conference organizer, I’ll tell you that a global pandemic and economic crisis were not the challenges I expected we would face this year in planning ATA61. As the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to climb, your health and well-being remain our top priority. With this in mind, and in order to bring some certainty to our Annual Conference event, ATA’s Board of Directors has decided to shift from a “hybrid” (in-person and virtual) model to a fully virtual conference model this year.

We could not make this decision earlier in the year due to the huge financial cancelation penalties ATA would have incurred if we had canceled without a contractually-stipulated cause. The conference hotel has now agreed to waive cancelation penalties if we agree to hold our Annual Conference at their hotel in 2025, the next available date. The removal of this financial barrier allowed us to focus solely on the health and well-being of our conference attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors.

With this new-to-ATA delivery format, and knowing conference attendees appreciate the educational content available, our main focus will be to deliver a large variety of sessions that will appeal to our diverse membership. While it may not be possible to provide all 174 regular sessions for the virtual conference, our goal will be to provide as many sessions as possible that attendees will find useful and stimulating. The remote conference features aim to make sessions incredibly interactive and accessible. You’ll be able to participate in session Q&As and even send your questions to speakers after their session if they were unable to answer them live. You’ll also be able to see which sessions are in progress and start viewing them immediately, switch between session rooms just as you would if you attended in person, and more. And, of course, if you can’t make it to a session during the livestream, you can watch the recording later!

Our virtual Exhibit Hall will allow you to chat with vendors and tools representatives and ask questions about their products or services. Our conference sponsors will also be highlighted on the virtual conference site so that remote attendees can learn more about them and what they provide.

Finally, it wouldn’t be an Annual Conference without the networking and camaraderie we all enjoy so much. The virtual conference will include remote networking and social gatherings for attendees, just as we always have when meeting in person. Divisions are encouraged to organize virtual social gatherings in lieu of the popular annual division dinners we all enjoy.

As conference organizer, I assure you that we’ll do everything possible to make the virtual conference as enjoyable and beneficial as possible for attendees.

Despite the uncertainty and unknowns 2020 has brought, we’re excited to have made this decision and to bring some certainty and excitement to the format of the Annual Conference. One thing is for sure—ATA61 will be one for the books!


Dealing with Uncertain Times

By the time you have this issue in your hands, things may or may not have gotten back to normal after a very difficult and unprecedented spring due to the coronavirus outbreak. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that things will be far from normal, so an article about how to deal with your interpreting business should be relevant at the time of this writing and in early summer.

In mid-March, I saw my interpreting business decline by 90%. By the end of the month, it was completely decimated as law firms cancelled depositions, arbitrations, mediations, etc., and courts continued most cases but only held hearings for urgent cases. The few court hearings that needed an interpreter were easily handled by in-house interpreters rather than by contractors like me. I had quite a few conference interpreting assignments lined up, and those were all cancelled in mid-March. Some entrepreneurial law firms and litigation services companies moved to remote depositions, and I’ve done many of them with experiences ranging from very good to average. I continued charging my same hourly rate, but as we were using Zoom or even just a phone conference call, everything had to be done consecutively, which is challenging (but lucrative, as I bill these by the hour). Some of my law firm clients stopped doing remote after they realized how difficult this was for most parties, including the court reporter and deponents, who often rely on a cell phone and speakerphone with poor audio quality.

Just like for all my colleagues, this has been a difficult time. Not necessarily for me personally, because I’m in the lucky position of also having a boutique translation business that still has clients and work coming in (albeit less), but because I’m worried about others of lesser means and the impact this situation will have on so many who already live paycheck to paycheck. The global effect of this crisis is almost unimaginable, and it’s made me feel hopeless, angry, and sad. However, I’ve come up with a few ways to deal with this terrible uncertainty and my own feeling of powerlessness, plus my empty calendar, that you might also find useful.

  • Do Something Nice for Others: Our profession is a very supportive under normal circumstances, but now we’ve become even more supportive, which is great. I go beyond our profession every day, including: ordering books from a small independent bookstore that’s been hard hit by the virus, making cookies and delivering them to a friend’s house, writing a letter of recommendation for a colleague, becoming a peer mentor in Corinne McKay’s free MOOC-style course for beginning translators, helping find clients for a colleague who wanted to get into remote interpreting, and doing a video chat a day with a colleague or friend who wants to talk. The possibilities are endless, and helping others feels good. You can’t control what the virus does, but you can certainly control what you do for others.
  • Exercise and Yoga: Studies show that exercise may actually strengthen your immune system. With my yoga studio and gym closed, I’ve found new ways to exercise. I’ve been running outside more (keeping a safe distance from others), gone on walks with one friend at a time, taken live Zoom classes with yoga instructors (helping to support them as their businesses have collapsed), and grown to love yoga videos on YouTube.
  • Virtual Book Club and Happy Hours: To retain some sense of normalcy, I’ve moved my book club online and am doing at least one happy hour a week via some form of video chat. We each grab snacks and a favorite drink and chat away. It’s almost as good as the real thing.
  • Learn Something New: I’ve filled my usually packed calendar with webinars, MOOCs (on coronavirus through Coursera), and have learned about new software, how to translate virus-related terms, how to teach remotely more efficiently, etc.
  • Catch Up on Your To-Do List: While I’ll never get to inbox zero, I’m currently closer than ever. I’ve shredded a box of old documents, started going through my photos that were in dire need of a clean-up, and tackled some drawers I should have organized a long time ago. These are small successes that do wonders for my mood and motivation.
  • Don’t Reduce Your Rates: Finally, while it’s very tempting to do so, I would resist the temptation of lowering rates and working conditions, as it will be challenging to reverse them once things are better. We might have to temporarily relax standards a bit, but just for now. For example, I had always declined over-the-phone consecutive interpreting for depositions, but I did accept a few during the crisis. But we do need to make sure we safeguard our rates and working conditions, now more than ever.

We’re all in this together, dear colleagues and friends. Now is the time for even more kindness and support. Let’s help each other through this. What can you do to help someone today or in the near future?

Judy Jenner is a Spanish and German business and legal translator and a federally and state-certified (California, Nevada) Spanish court interpreter. She has an MBA in marketing and runs her boutique translation and interpreting business, Twin Translations, with her twin sister Dagmar. She was born in Austria and grew up in Mexico City. A former in-house translation department manager, she is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She writes the blog Translation Times and is a frequent conference speaker. She serves as one of the ATA spokespersons. She is the co-author of The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation. Contact:

This column is not intended to constitute legal, financial, or other business advice. Each individual or company should make its own independent business decisions and consult its own legal, financial, or other advisors as appropriate. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of ATA or its Board of Directors. Ideas and questions should be directed to

What Are Translation-Specific Tool Providers and Developers Doing to Assist Translators During COVID-19?

In light of the current situation, it was suggested that I write something connecting technology with our all-consuming health crisis. None of us can predict what things will be like when this column goes to print, but it’s safe to say that our lives will not have returned to normal—whatever “normal” is now.

I really liked the idea, so I asked the same question of the technology vendors themselves. (Since I had to limit myself, I asked only computer-assisted translation tool or translation environment tool providers and developers.) This is the message I sent:

I’m working on an article about what vendors of translation-specific tools are doing to respond to the coronavirus. Clearly, these are very, very difficult times for all of us, personally and professionally. I’m aware that you may see a significant decrease in sales in the next few weeks and maybe months as much of translation life slows down. Still, this is a good opportunity to reach out to translators with offers specifically geared toward this crisis, including training, digital meetings, and other kinds of engagement. What you are planning in this regard?

You won’t be surprised to hear that virtually all vendors replied to outline their efforts. I’ll list them here in alphabetical order. (I edited the answers to cut text that seemed too promotional or offers that listed special sales of existing products. Also, nearly all respondents mentioned that staff members are working remotely while ensuring the operation of all services and necessary uptimes required.)

Please keep in mind that the timelines for these offers might have changed since the initial responses were received, so make sure to consult the websites listed. I just wanted to provide a snapshot of how vendors responded to the gravity of the situation to offer support to translators and interpreters during a difficult time. It’s just another example of how our industry is pulling together to do what they can.

ATRIL has been trying to help our customers and partners face this difficult situation. For example, in China, where we partner with a large number of universities, we’ve equipped university staff and students with free DVX3 Pro licenses so they can still study and learn while being at home.

For translators who are already using DVX3 but need an additional license for another computer during this crisis, we’re providing them with temporary activation codes.

The top priority of memoQ is ensuring a safe and remote working environment for our employees, as well as providing our users with professional solutions and supporting life science companies during the pandemic. To this end, we have:

  • Published an e-book to support the switch to home offices:
  • Provided local and international organizations and software development companies that are fighting COVID-19 with free server licenses during the crisis.
  • Provided free server licenses for non-governmental organizations and life science companies that are fighting COVID-19 and dealing with crisis communication.

In addition to these initiatives, memoQ organizes virtual events to further develop their users’ project management skills and provide both memoQ and non-memoQ users with valuable information on how to improve their translation and localization workflows.

The skills of the professional translation community are in high demand at the moment. As such, SDL has taken the following actions:

  • Provided free access to machine translation for health science professionals (see
  • Increased the allocation of free machine translation characters to SDL Trados Studio users. There may be a greater need for urgent translations at this time. Some businesses may also be suffering from staff reductions. Therefore, for SDL Trados Studio customers who are currently on a neural machine translation package provided by SDL Machine Translation, we’re doubling the number of free characters per month until the end of May—and we might extend further depending on the global situation. This change shall be automatically applied to customer accounts and should help them cope with any surge in demand.
  • Provided new virtual events and additional educational activities. To ensure that we continue to deliver content, virtual networking opportunities, and educational activities that contribute to our customers’ continued professional development, we have digitized a number of our in-person events. Check:

Smartcat has always provided its core technology stack at no charge to freelancers, so this will not change. We also provide free access to getting work through our marketplace.

We’ve found that the issue that most concerns our freelance users during this economic downturn is confidence in timely payments, so here’s what we have to offer:

  • Payment insurance by Smartcat for projects contracted through and carried out on the Smartcat platform.
  • Prioritized Payment: Guaranteed payment within 30 days of project completion, regardless of the standard payment schedule of an end buyer.
  • Enhanced support to provide answers to user request within 12 business hours.
  • We’ll also cover those who have issues working with customers because of AB 5.

For language services providers, Smartcat is eliminating per-user licenses, while offering reduced payment fees and enhanced vendor-sourcing options. You can find more information here:

Text United
Some of our clients are from industries that have suffered a major hit due to COVID-19 (e.g., hospitality, travel, and automotive). We’re trying to ease the financial impact for them by delaying their subscription payments by two to three months. Also, we’re offering these clients free use of our translation management system until the end of June of 2020.

To those outside our client base, we’ll provide media channels support in the translation of articles and video subtitles. This will help them reach a wider and international audience to ensure that as many people as possible understand the situation and the precautions they need to take.

Translated (Matecat and Modern MT),
To help our community of customers and translators, we’ve decided to offer our best adaptive machine translation service, ModernMT, for free until May 30. We will not limit usage. The only limit will be the capacity of our infrastructure (hundreds of graphics processing units). Visit to see the range of application programming interface plans we have for enterprises and professional translators. Pick the plan that best fits your needs and add a credit card (to avoid spam—you will not be charged).

Now more than ever, it’s important that health-related information be available to all in as many languages as necessary. To assist the health care industry in its efforts, Wordbee is launching a support initiative by offering Wordbee Translator, our cloud-based translation management system, for free for two months. Wordbee Translator includes everything needed to translate, revise, and manage projects. Five users can work simultaneously, and these users can include in-house managers, editors, and external freelance translators. In addition, the Wordbee team will offer free online training to help kick-start your translation efforts.

These exceptional conditions will apply for those working in hospitals, scientific or diagnostic laboratories, pathology clinics, residential health facilities, nursing homes, companies that produce biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and other scientific services. Also eligible are medical device manufacturers and non-governmental organizations that help support the delivery and financing of health care services among large segments of the population.


  • We implemented, early in the pandemic, a measure for employed translators who must comply with containment measures and work from home. We amended the terms of our end-user license agreement to move in-company licenses to translators’ personal computers for free.
  • We remain committed to granting free technology to humanitarian and relief efforts. During the COVID-19 emergency, our offer is extended to government-backed efforts, not just non-governmental organizations.
  • We’re working on a project management extension for our online translation environment, Wordfast Anywhere, that would greatly help translation workforces get up and running overnight.

Our offer is valid for the duration of the crisis worldwide. We’ll extend that by three months after the crisis ends. Of course, no one can put a specific date on that, but we’ll count the economic aftermath as part of the crisis. Which means, as far as things go, it’s until Dec 31, 2020.

The Wordfast team appeals to machine translation providers, such as Google, Microsoft, and DeepL, to grant free access during the COVID-19 crisis for translators working from home.

Jost Zetzsche is chair of ATA’s Translation and Interpreting Resources Committee. He is the author of Translation Matters, a collection of 81 essays about translators and translation technology. Contact:

This column has two goals: to inform the community about technological advances and encourage the use and appreciation of technology among translation professionals.

How a Deeper Knowledge of Basic Tools Can Up Your Game

During the years that I’ve worked as a translation project manager, I can recount many times when I’ve been consulted on technical issues—anything from formatting a document properly to transitioning from a PC to a Mac (or vice versa). Sometimes I’ve heard translators express something along the lines of, “I’m a linguist—I didn’t sign up for all this techie stuff!”

I can also remember many occasions after I would teach a new function or a shortcut in MS Word or PowerPoint when a translator would tell me—sometimes years later—that my shortcut made their life easier and helped them work a lot faster over the long run. On these occasions, I can’t help but wonder—how much more productive could that translator have been with just a few more techie tricks up their sleeve? While we as translators can sometimes be reluctant to delve into the technological side of our computer tools, deepening our understanding of the programs we use on a daily basis can help streamline the way we work.

Figure 1: Example of a Shortcut Key


You may be surprised at the number of features you already have at your disposal that could help you work better and more efficiently. Taking some time to learn those functions might just help you to get through that next cumbersome translation, or speed up your work so that you’re able to meet that deadline. Why bother to learn some of the features that your computer’s software offers? Here are three outcomes that I’ve personally experienced:

Increased Productivity: It goes without saying that the more you know your software, the easier it will be to work with your word processor, computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool, or other online platform. Building your technical skills and deepening your knowledge will allow you to work faster and more efficiently.

Keeping Ahead of the Game: The better you know your software, the easier it will be to get used to a newer version of that program once an update rolls out. Also, understanding one type of software program might very well make it easier if you need to transition to another similar program, such as switching from one CAT tool to another.

Becoming More Attractive to Potential Clients: If a client knows you can work in MS Word and handle styles or text embedded in images without any help, that client will be more likely to call on you again for similar projects. These are value-added skills that can only enhance your marketability as a translation service provider.

How do you go about learning to use software more effectively? With the availability of online video tutorials and social media user groups, learning new tricks or even deepening your knowledge of the programs you already use can be quite painless. I belong to a Facebook group for users of Adobe InDesign, which is the software I use most for multilingual desktop publishing work. Sometimes people will post solutions to situations I’ve encountered and been unable to solve. Other times, I’ll discover that a problem I’ve been experiencing isn’t my fault at all, but rather a problem with the software awaiting a bug fix. Several CAT tool platforms also have similar user groups on social media where translators can commiserate about their difficulties or share ideas and solutions with each other.

Figure 2: Context Menu

Three Practical Tips

There are plenty of features and techniques to help you get the most out of your software, but here are three useful ways that can allow you to become more of a power user in any program with which you’re already familiar.

Shortcut Keys: Shortcut keys are just that: quick ways to get around the often cumbersome process of using dropdown menus to find the command you’re looking for. Shortcut keys are key combinations that cause a specific command to be executed. Most programs include them to help increase speed and productivity.

These shortcuts typically combine the Ctrl, Alt, or Windows keys (on Windows) or the Command, Option, or Control keys (on a Mac) plus a letter. Sometimes hovering the mouse pointer over an icon will reveal the key combination. Also, on Windows, hitting the Alt key once can reveal the shortcut letter to be used together with the Alt key to access that function. Try googling the name of any program along with the words “shortcut keys” and your operating system (Windows or Mac), and you’re bound to get a long list of useful shortcut keys to incorporate into daily usage.

Using shortcut keys particularly for repeated functions like copy (Ctrl / CMD + c) or paste (Ctrl / CMD + v), or to move between programs (Ctrl / CMD + tab) not only saves time, but using them can be a lot easier on your wrist than clicking away on a mouse, especially when sitting at the computer for hours on end. In MS Word, try Ctrl/CMD + Shift + c to select the formatting of any selected text, and then Ctrl/CMD + Shift + v to apply that same formatting to another selected text. This is great for copying font sizes or colors, typefaces, or even indenting over to another part of your document. Then there’s the handy “undo” function (Ctrl / CMD + z), which in many programs erases the last change made—a life-saving function if that last change you made was an error. (See Figure 1.)

Context Menus and Task Panes: The Context Menu, also known as the “right-click menu,” offers several handy options that sometimes aren’t readily visible on the top or side toolbars on your screen. These menus are most often accessed by pressing the right click button on your mouse or by clicking with two fingers on a trackpad. (See Figure 2.)

Virtually all programs, whether they be Microsoft, Adobe, or CAT tool software, offer several handy functions in the context menu, and these menus can change depending on where your cursor may be or what you’ve selected. Try right-clicking to access the context menu when you’re in different screens other than the default, or when you have other function windows open. If the context menu offers options with which you’re unfamiliar, try them out or google what they do. Just be sure you save your document before doing so, and remember Ctrl / CMD + z in case you unintentionally change something.

If you’re like most translators and generally work with Microsoft documents, become familiar with Microsoft’s task panes, such as the Navigation or the Reviewing Panes in MS Word or the Animation or Selection Panes in PowerPoint. Sometimes the key to navigating through a long document or formatting your translation in the exact same way as its source lies in a function buried somewhere in a task pane, and learning how to use them more effectively can be as simple as googling a tutorial video. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3: Navigation Pane

Update, Update, Update: Keeping your software updated may seem like a cumbersome task, and also possibly a frustrating one, especially if you’ve become very comfortable with the layout and functionality of your current version. The danger in holding onto older versions of software and not updating is that older versions can run slower or may not be compatible with the documents a client may send you.
Several companies such as Microsoft and Adobe have moved to subscription-based platforms for their software so that users can continuously have access to the most updated versions (and also charge a monthly subscription price). If you’re hesitant about updating, check out online forums to see what others are saying about updating to the latest version of your software.

As translators, the computer hardware and software we use are the main tools of our trade, and investing the funds to keep them updated and the time and effort to learn how to use them effectively will certainly pay off in the long run. You don’t have to be an IT geek to use your software effectively. Whether it be by way of online tutorials or discovering for yourself new functionalities through submenus, fly-out panes, and help categories of your most often used software, improving your tech-savviness only ups your game as a translator and makes you more attractive to potential clients.

Remember, if you have any ideas and/or suggestions regarding helpful resources or tools you would like to see featured, please e-mail Jost Zetzsche at

Ray Valido is a translation project manager at the Office of Language Services at the U.S. Department of State, where he is in charge of the office’s multilingual desktop publishing program. He has an MA in translation and localization management (Spanish) from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Contact:

COVID-19 and Certification

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on ATA’s Certification Program has been and remains profound. Although the situation continues to unfold, here are how things stand at this writing (early May).

  • All exam sittings scheduled for March, April, and May have been cancelled. Registration for future sittings is on hold while ATA Headquarters and the Certification Committee assess the situation. Moreover, ATA is not accepting requests from chapters and local groups to schedule sittings later in 2020. This shutdown will continue to be evaluated week-by-week.
  • The Certification Committee meeting and the Language Chairs meeting scheduled for mid-April in Alexandria, Virginia, were cancelled. The committee held a Zoom meeting instead.
  • ATA is refunding registration fees for those whose sittings were cancelled, and will apply a liberal refund policy to existing registrants for the rest of the year. Even if sittings resume later in 2020, registrants can receive a full refund if they prefer not to risk traveling or sitting in a room with other candidates.

The Certification Program is stepping up efforts to offer candidate preparation sessions online. Besides the obvious benefit of allowing high-quality instructional content to be disseminated safely, offering sessions remotely and thus free of geographic constraints also opens the door to workshops for language pairs other than Spanish.

Speaking of online offerings, conferences and other events that have been moved online are still eligible for continuing education points (CEPs). If it’s a live online event (conference or webinar), it counts for CEPs under Category A, with the same points awarded and the same restrictions as a live, in-person event. Anything recorded and reviewed at one’s own leisure can also count, but under Category B. An example of this would be the ATA58 recording recently made available for free to the membership ( For
more information about CEPs, visit

One aspect of the program that remains unaffected is the practice test. In the absence of exam activities, this is a great time to take one or more practice tests. These are retired exam passages that the candidate purchases online, translates, and returns for grading and feedback. For more details, visit

As in so many other areas of life, the realities of social distancing and stay-at-home orders are motivating the Certification Program to think about ways to alleviate similar situations in the future. One obvious focus is on ways to administer the exam remotely (i.e., allow candidates to take the exam from home). It has been five years since ATA last considered options in that regard, which at the time were found lacking from the standpoint of logistics and, most of all, security. But five years is a long time, and the pandemic is no doubt spurring the development of all sorts of new solutions for functioning remotely. The Certification Committee intends to keep a close eye on possibilities in this area.

David Stephenson, CT is the chair of ATA’s Certification Committee. An ATA-certified German>English, Dutch>English, and Croatian>English translator, he has been an independent translator for over 30 years, specializing in civil litigation and creative nonfiction. Contact:

Advocacy and Other Business

As I conclude the third month of my term as president, I find myself spending a lot of time on advocacy efforts.

2020 is shaping up to be a year in which ATA focuses a great deal on state and national legislation affecting the translation and interpreting professions. As expected, California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which went into effect January 1, has had widespread negative consequences for many of our members in California. Similar legislation has been or will be proposed in other states.

In response, ATA is supporting the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC)1 in its efforts to drum up grassroots support for an amendment to the law, providing a specific exemption for translators and interpreters. Working with the Joint National Committee for Languages2 and CoPTIC, ATA issued an official statement3 in favor of such an exemption as well as an information sheet for use by members when advocating for such an exemption with their state legislators (see page 7). ATA also issued a statement in response to California Senate Bill 875, which proposes including translators and interpreters in the list of professional services that are exempt from the ABC Test requirement in AB 5.4 While well-intentioned, the proposed wording is very problematic and shows a lack of understanding of the translation and interpreting professions. A “clean” straightforward exemption for translators and interpreters remains the best solution to this problem. A victory in California will greatly facilitate obtaining similar exemptions in other states that pass strict versions of the ABC Test.

Through its membership in the Professional Certification Coalition5, ATA is also monitoring state legislation regarding voluntary certification programs to ensure that they do not negatively impact ATA’s Certification Program.

But not all proposed legislation has negative consequences for ATA members. H.R. 5339, the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act6, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Abigail Davis Spanberger, would permit ATA members to use 529 tax-preferred savings accounts to pay for expenses related to becoming certified (e.g., practice tests, exam preparation, and costs) and maintaining certification (e.g., continuing education requirements such as professional development training and attendance at the Annual Conference). I encourage you to contact your representatives and senators to urge them to support this bill.

It’s Not All Politics

But don’t think legislative advocacy is the only thing ATA and I have been working on for the past three months. Planning is well underway for ATA’s 61st Annual Conference, to be held in Boston October 21–24. (For more of what ATA61 has in store, see ATA President-Elect Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo’s column on page 4 of this issue.) The Professional Development Committee continues to work on expanding and improving professional development opportunities, including webinars and in-person events, in part driven by the recent Professional Development Survey in which members provided topics of interest to them. At ATA Headquarters, the new website is nearing completion and should debut in the near future. The Membership Committee continues to examine ways to increase the value of ATA membership, to reach and recruit new members, and retain current members. The Governance and Communications Committee is working on policies to increase transparency at ATA.

I had hoped to report on these developments and other outcomes from the recent Board of Directors meeting here, but my submission deadline requires that I include that report in my next column. Until next time.

  1. Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California,
  2. Joint National Committee for Languages,
  3. Statement of Position Regarding California Assembly Bill 5 and Request for Exemption,
  4. ATA Statement on California SB 875 (Exemption to AB 5 for Translators and Interpreters),
  5. Professional Certification Coalition,
  6. H.R. 5339—Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act,

Boston, Here We Come!

Planning is in full swing for ATA’s 61st Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, set to take place October 21–24 at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

For many of us, this is the event of the year—known for the high level of professional development opportunities and networking available to members and attendees. As one 2019 attendee said about her experience, “It’s just wonderful! And I go back home energized.”

After enjoying the sunny days and chilly evenings in Palm Springs at ATA60, I’ve heard from many of you that you’re even more excited to head to the historic city of Boston this year. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

From Harvard Square and Beacon Hill to Freedom Trail and Faneuil Hall Marketplace, every corner of Boston has something to enjoy. For those of us who are self-proclaimed “foodies,” Boston is best known for its wonderful seafood—make sure you try a lobster roll and a bowl of clam chowder while you’re in town. And lest we forget our linguistic roots, you can’t visit Boston without appreciating the beautiful Boston accent! ATA members in the Boston area are eager to welcome their colleagues. (For more information on the New England Translators Association, check out their website listed in the sidebar.)

We anticipate even more attendees at the 2020 conference than we had in New Orleans and Palm Springs, respectively. After reviewing the results of the Professional Development Survey we recently conducted for members, we were able to gauge the kinds of topics you would like to see at the conference. From there, we sent out the call for conference proposals, highlighting the topics that were especially requested as a way to solicit presentations in these areas and prioritize the content our members need most. Hopefully many of the requested topics and areas will be well represented at the Boston conference as a result of this effort.

ATA President Ted Wozniak and I recently returned from a site visit to the host hotel for ATA61. And while we were in Boston for the Annual Conference in 2011 for ATA52, this year’s conference will be held in a different part of the city. The Westin Waterfront Boston, a newly renovated hotel, is located in the Seaport District near South Boston. This is an exciting area of town that boasts a great restaurant scene within walking distance and sites like the New England Aquarium, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and more. You can even arrive a day early to enjoy one of the Boston sightseeing trolley tours! Boston USA provides an official guide application for iPhone and Android users to find great deals, search the local events calendar, and purchase tickets to Boston attractions.

The Westin will house the majority of sessions, with just a handful of sessions and meetings taking place in the adjoining Boston Convention Center, a very short walk over the enclosed sky bridge. We’re planning some exciting new Advanced Skills and Training (AST) sessions for the Wednesday before the conference officially starts, and you’ll see tweaks and improvements to some of the evening events in an effort to make your conference an even greater experience and investment. We expect the room block at the Westin to fill rather quickly, so watch for the announcement to book your room soon! Registration for the Annual Conference will open in July.

It’s my sincere pleasure to be the conference organizer in my role as ATA president-elect. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions you have about the conference. See you in Boston!

What to Do and See in Boston

Boston Sightseeing Trolley Tours

Boston USA

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Fenway Park

Freedom Trail

Harvard Square

New England Aquarium

New England Translators Association

ATA at “Protect Translators. Protect Interpreters. Protect the World.”: A Panel Discussion at the United Nations

On December 11, 2019, the Permanent Missions of Spain and the Republic of Fiji to the United Nations, together with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), hosted a panel discussion on the urgent need for enhanced legal and physical protection for translators and interpreters in high-risk settings. The event was co-organized on behalf of the world language community by Red T, a nonprofit advocating for laws and policies that promote the safety of linguists at risk.1

For the first time, the occasion brought together not only representatives from the major translator/interpreter (T&I) associations across the globe, but prominent humanitarian organizations whose support Red T was able to secure, including PEN International, Amnesty International’s Language Resource Centre, and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). In addition to ATA, the other T&I associations represented were the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters, International Association of Translation and Intercultural Studies, International Federation of Translators, and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters.

Risks and Vulnerabilities

In addition to discussing steps for mitigating risks and vulnerabilities, the panel also focused on what can be done to help translators and interpreters in conflict zones gain the international recognition and protection they deserve. The impressive list of panelists included:

  • María Bassols, ambassador and deputy permanent representative, Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations
  • Bill Miller, director of regional operations of UNDSS
  • Maya Hess, founder and chief executive officer of Red T
  • Betsy Fisher, director of strategy at IRAP
  • Lucio Bagnulo, head of translation at Amnesty International’s Language Resource Centre
  • Simona Škrabec, chair of PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee
  • Caroline Decroix, vice president of the Association des interprètes et auxiliaires afghans de l’Armée Française
  • Abdul Qaiyoum Najbullah Habibi, a conflict-zone interpreter
  • Moderator: Linda Fitchett, chair of AIIC’s Conflict Zone Interpreter Project

The precursor to the panel discussion was a roundtable held at the UN in April 20182, which explored the risks and vulnerabilities experienced by translators and interpreters working in conflict situations.

From left: Bill Miller, Linda Fitchett, Ambassador María Bassols, Maya Hess, Simona Škrabec, and Caroline Decroix

In her opening remarks, Moderator Linda Fitchett expressed the hope that the UN will move toward an international response to address the need for protecting translators and interpreters in conflict zones.

Ambassador Maria Bassols noted that Spain, a staunch supporter of a broad humanitarian agenda, believes that translators and interpreters play a critical role in international relations and enhance knowledge within the international community. The big question, though, is how to fit the issue of protection for this group into the UN agenda. While pointing out that visa programs are national programs run by sovereign states, Bassols also observed this does not mean that international criteria cannot guide these policies. She stressed, however, that there is a lack of information about the numbers involved and that more solid data is needed to take any further steps within the UN. Such steps could include the establishment of a UN working group or “group of friends” (an informal group of states formed to support the peacemaking of the UN), and even a resolution, although this last measure would require tremendous effort.

UNDSS Director Bill Miller, whose department protects people who “require extraordinary protection in the service of others,” explained that 44 areas around the world are now classified as high risk and above, and that translators and interpreters are key in helping bridge the gap of misunderstanding behind the social and nativist drivers that create high-risk areas.

Maya Hess then expanded on the fact that T&I protection is virtually absent in the current international legal regime, and that it can only be inferred. However, Hess stated that “ample and gruesome evidence has shown that inferential rights are not sufficient, especially since linguists affiliated with troops, humanitarian organizations, and the media often operate on the frontlines and in other violent settings.” She pointed out that this lack of protection is further compounded by “the diminishing relevance and protective power of the Geneva Conventions due to changes in the traditional model of warfare,” including “the growing tendency to outsource wars to private defense contractors whose profit motives supersede interpreter welfare.” To address these factors, Hess proposed various solutions, including:

  • Establishing a UN working group focused on this thematic.
  • Appointing a special rapporteur who would investigate and draft a report on the scope of the issue.
  • Drafting a document similar or iterative to the Montreux Document3, which outlines applicable law and best practices for private military and security companies in war zones.
  • Proposing a UN resolution that would articulate T&I rights and establish a normative framework for future protection. Hess noted that such a resolution would shift the paradigm of how conflict-zone linguists are perceived and treated—a shift that, in turn, would save lives.

Protecting Our Linguists

IRAP Director of Strategy Betsy Fisher addressed interpreter safety and offered some important statistics. For instance, she noted that 216 documented interpreters have been killed in Iraq. Family members not only face direct, personal, and credible death threats from those in their local communities, but are also seen as security threats by their employers. In one case, a contract interpreter placed a call to an insurgent at the direction of his employer and was subsequently suspected by his employer of having misplaced loyalties, specifically because of this phone call.

After noting that relocation programs are rife with backlogs, delays, and inexplicable red tape and essentially amount to merely remedial measures, Fisher described specific steps that can be taken in conflict zones to ensure the safety of translators and interpreters. For example, occupying forces must find ways to protect the identities of linguists, including:

  • Providing on-base housing so that linguists cannot be identified on their way to work.
  • Allowing linguists to wear masks, use pseudonyms, and relocate within the country.
  • Keeping accurate information about who has worked for them.

Next, Simona Škrabec spoke about PEN International’s efforts to protect and relocate translators living and working in war zones and other high-risk settings. Škrabec noted that PEN’s main focus is freedom of expression and that linguists, who serve as “pillars of peace and mutual understanding,” are especially vulnerable and exposed by virtue of their abilities. Some of the translators PEN International has helped resettle include:

  • Mohammad Habeeb, one of the most prominent translators in Syria, who was imprisoned for nine years due to his criticism of human rights violations committed by the al-Assad regime.
  • Ashur Etwebi, a well-known Libyan poet, novelist, and translator, who was forced to leave his home after an attack by militia and resettled in Trondheim, Norway.
  • Amani Lazar, a translator and writer from Syria, who was in a particularly vulnerable position as a woman in a war-torn area close to ISIS-held territory.

From left: Linda Fitchett, Pablo Gutiérrez, Ambassador Maria Bassols, and Maya Hess

Lucio Bagnulo, head of translation at Amnesty International’s Language Resource Centre, also spoke about the idea that freedom of expression cannot exist without translators and interpreters. After observing that language enables Amnesty InternationaI to do its work and that the importance of translation and interpreting cannot be overstated, he noted that the international community still does not have access to an instrument that provides translators and interpreters with protection at the international level. He similarly highlighted the need to provide support to translators and interpreters who work for non-governmental organizations, noting that these linguists face as much risk as those employed by occupying forces.

French attorney Caroline Decroix described her battle with the French government to protect Afghan interpreters who worked for the French army. The French government was in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 and employed approximately 800 Afghan nationals, largely as interpreters under fixed-term contracts. As the French forces started to withdraw in 2012, several criteria were introduced for relocating these linguists to France, including assessing the threat level to the person concerned, the quality of services rendered, and the ability to integrate into French society. Under these criteria, only 73 people were accepted, and under revised criteria submitted three years later, only 100 more were accepted. In the fall of 2018, 51 additional families were admitted to France under a third procedure. There are a number of cases still pending, which points to the need for a harmonized response from the UN, since selection criteria for relocation vary from one country to another and create inequality within the interpreter community.

Finally, the panel heard from Abdul Qaiyoum Najbullah via video recording. Najbullah worked for the U.S. and Canadian armed forces from late 2007 to 2013. He took on this work because he saw it as a way to provide for his family while helping bring peace to his homeland. In 2010, however, his parents were murdered due to his collaboration with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and he was forced to flee. He paid a human trafficker to take him to Germany, a journey that lasted over seven months and at times involved greater risk than working for ISAF in Afghanistan. The rest of his story is best told in his own words:

“After arriving in Germany, I found one of my Canadian team members I worked with in Afghanistan. I was facing deportation from Germany to Austria and Hungary because of the Dublin Treaty and asked him for help. He promised that he would take me to Canada. After that, Joe Warmington, a journalist from the Toronto Sun, started writing articles about me. Red T read my story, got involved, and helped me. I was stuck without money in a refugee camp in southern Germany and needed to get to the Canadian Embassy in Berlin for a visa. Red T contacted the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators and asked them to bring me to my visa interview. Together with Joe Warmington, they kept my case in the news and on social media. All this worked—I got my visa and landed in Canada on April 15, 2016.”

The Need for an International Response

The panel concluded with additional contributions from policy experts and a lively discussion. The overall message to attending member states was, to use Hess’ words: “The time has come for an international response to what is an international problem, and we call on the UN to firmly place the protection of linguists on its Protection-of-Civilians agenda.”

  1. To learn more about Red-T, visit
  2. Gunderson, Lucy. “ATA at ‘Protect Translators and Interpreters, Protect the World’: A Roundtable at the United Nations,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2018), 7,
  3. The Montreux Document is the result of an international process launched by the government of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It’s an intergovernmental document intended to promote respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law whenever private military and security companies are present in armed conflicts. It was ratified in Montreux, Switzerland, in September 2008. For more information, see

Lucy Gunderson, CT is an ATA-certified Russian>English translator specializing in human rights, legal documents, and academic translation. She is also a past chair of ATA’s Divisions Committee and a former administrator of the Slavic Languages Division. Contact:

The ATA Chronicle © 2020 All rights reserved.